From the Brazilian culture war

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By Rafael dos Santos Pereira*

Understanding the centrality of Education in the context of the Brazilian cultural war is important not only to wage the immediate fight, but also the permanent fight

On April 24, 2020, President Jair Bolsonaro made a public statement accompanied by most of his Ministers of State. He sought to contextualize and give his version of the denunciations made by the then Minister of Justice. Sérgio Moro held a press conference on the morning of the same day, April 24, in which he accused the President, among other things, of seeking to interfere politically in the command of the federal police so that he could have privileged access to inquiries.

Jair Bolsonaro then gathered the press and gave a speech in which he addressed the various denunciations and insinuations made by Moro, in addition to discussing other topics that have no direct connection with the crisis at the Ministry of Justice and Public Security. The questions that would respond directly to Moro's statements were read on three pages at the end of the event. Such pages were preceded by an improvised speech.

On the occasion, the president carried out a “small balance sheet” of the government, choosing to resume several speeches and important key narratives for several groups of supporters of his government, such as the issue of gender ideology, abortion and a self-affirmed austere posture with regard to personal resources of the presidency.

Among these tangential issues, it is possible to observe a highlight given to only one Minister, in addition to Sérgio Moro. I was also struck by the fact that this Minister's area was the only one on which the president spoke beyond what was not linked to a justification of acts taken by him. The Minister of Education was cited as an example of the person who "beats" the most in fulfilling his mission. In addition to the citation, there was a discussion of a subdiscourse on the area of ​​education.

The speech within the speech

The content of the speech is consistent with his previous speeches, including campaign speeches and the government program, as can be seen in a descriptive study that I recently posted. However, the place that this subdiscourse had in an event in which nothing could be linked to education is what caught my attention, reinforcing the idea that fighting the cultural war in education is central to Bolsonaro, constituting a structuring axis of his government, as or more important to him than any other subject.

Below is the transcript of the President's sub-speech to which we refer:

Here there is a minister who is beaten every day, like Abraham Weintraub, for example, others are beaten too, but this is an example, he fights against a decades-long indoctrination, where he has been showing that education in Brazil has never been so bad, not only the tests of step well demonstrate that we are in several matters last in south america, last in the world, this has to be changed, he tries and has been demonstrating with a lot of work, that it is not worth it, fathers, mothers, that your son has a piece a diploma written on paper, he has to practice that trade, the diploma nowadays has become just a decorative figure for students, he has to be a good professional and not a good militant. (our emphasis)

The italics we made point to the pillars of Bolsonaro's educational discourse, expression of a project whose main objective is to destroy what exists, so that, who knows, later rebuild his educational project on the rubble of the past. We draw attention to the strong critical and denialist character, an effective strategy to maintain unity between the various columns that fight this war commanded by the captain. Talking about how education should be at a table with the military, olavists and evangelicals, who remain in the front line, and with neoliberals, who remain in the rear, would be much more complex and unity would be practically impossible.

Discursive Pillars of the Culture War

The first pillar is the fight against decades-long indoctrination, which would be the main responsible for the meager academic results of education and mainly the motivating element for carrying out the cultural war, which proposes to liberate hearts and minds imprisoned by indoctrination.

The second pillar is the situation of Brazilian education, especially the public one held by states and municipalities, which almost all enrollments in the basic network. While the situation of basic education is miserable and self-explanatory, higher education, although of quality, is included in the cultural war as the pillar of the fight against indoctrination.

If the first pillar has a greater theoretical constitution and depends on a great discursive effort and the production of evidence, in order to be raised, the second pillar springs up in the eyes of anyone who has ever attended a public school as a student or as a worker. This problem, obviously, is in the subjects who captured Brazilian education and produced the indoctrination, that is, the left. The popular imagination and common sense, that public schools were better in the past, play in favor of these simplistic and conspiratorial correlations.

The third pillar, expressed by the phrase “(…) the diploma nowadays has become just a decorative figure (…)”, manages to support the criticism of the educational project undertaken by the Lula and Dilma governments, with the expansion of vacancies in education technical, technological and professional and in higher education mainly, but also to the massification of basic education carried out by Fernando Henrique Cardoso between 1995 and 2002. This connection is important because, for Bolsonaro and his allies, there is no difference between the governments of FHC, Lula and Dilma, by the way, everything that came after the military dictatorship, is considered the same political-ideological process commanded by the left that they call “gramiscista”, and an allusion to Antonio Gramsci's political theories about the State and about the revolution.

There is still a griffin that I do not consider a pillar, but it is a very important element of the conjuncture. It is a broad compliment to the Minister of Education, who has his head put at a price, in the figurative sense (sic!), for the opposition, especially that linked to education. By citing and recognizing Weintraub's management, Bolsonaro indicates that this minister may be the one who will turn off the light at the end of the government, whatever the end may be.

Final considerations

In the midst of the pandemic, he could have spoken about health or the economy, topics of very high immediate public interest. However, he chose to talk about Education! This choice, added to the pillars and element that we have pointed out, in our understanding, imply the positioning of education as the central axis of the culture war waged by Bolsonaro and his allies.

Understanding the centrality of Education in the context of the Brazilian cultural war is important not only to wage the immediate combat, but also the permanent combat, the one that takes place immediately after the recovery of occupied territories. It is necessary to reach the heart of this system that intends to return society to medieval levels, because it is this system that keeps the various flames of the various columns of this war lit, identifying common enemies, emotionally mobilizing militancy and justifying extreme measures, condemnable in “times of peace”.

*Rafael dos Santos Pereira is a doctoral student in Education at UFPR

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